It’s our first day in Austria and we decided to drive the famous Großglockner High Alpine Road. Along the drive our brand new rental car was broken in as it climbed 2,504 m (8,215 ft) along the 48 km drive.
The alpine road starts in Fusch, where a road south from Zell am See traces along the valley floor and then zig zags up the eastern hillside. We stopped quite a few times going up the road, taking tons of pictures of the valley and the mountains on the other side. We stopped at several pull offs with some brilliant, yellow conifer trees. These confers are actually the deciduous larch tree, which looses its needle-like leaves every fall. You can read all about them in 6 different languages. But you don’t need to read to appreciate their color and uniqueness.
Jesse and I thought we had reached the top of the road, at the Fuschertörl Glockner restaurant, where a number of road bikers were stopped to have a snack. We decided to join in and sat to have our lunch there, but we kept it short since it was very windy on the pass.
After lunch we decided to go a bit further and found that the road continued much further than we ever would have expected. Every turn was another beautiful surprise, but we were quickly running out of memory on the camera. Some old pictures were sacrificed and for the rest of the day I strictly practiced “shooting with intent”, not something I do very often, but I should probably do more of since I have so many fewer but better pictures from today.
Beyond the first valley the road took us to several impressive viewpoints of the nearby mountains and Höhe Tauern National Park. From this large viewpoint you could see the Großglockner itself, the highest mountain in Austria. It is 3,798 m (12,460 ft) tall and is listed among the highest peaks in the Alps. There was a shrine near the top with names of over 20 people who lost their lives in the construction of the High Alpine road.
We passed the small, frozen Fuscher Lacke before taking tunnel through the mountains from the Salzburg province to Carinthia. On the other side of the tunnel were several high alpine ski lifts from the Heiligenblut ski area. The road dropped a lot of elevation, then instead of turning to go down into the valley to Heiligenblut am Großglockner, we drove west up into another valley to an amazing viewpoint of the Großglockner and the immense Pasterze glacier below it.
We parked near the Kaiser Franz-Josef-Haus & Panorama restaurant and walked along the hillside past the Wilhelm-Swarovski-Beobachtungswarte observation station. We were told by one of the concierges at our hotel that the observation station is a great place to visit and that they have nice scopes to look through to see the mountain, the glacier and nearby wildlife, and they have staff to help point out the wildlife to you. Unfortunately the observation station was closed for the season.
The Gletscher restaurant was still open, so Jesse and I shared a slice of cake up on the deck overlooking the glacier and mountains. We were greeted by some large black birds, probably the Alpine Chough (related to crows), who wanted to share the cake with us too!
It was a little to late in the day to do any hiking, but there is a trail that leaves the visitor centre and continues to climb alongside the glacier that was closed for the season. There are also trails that climb down the steep valley to the glacier and for those who are properly equipped, a route to climb to alpine huts and the summit of the Großglockner. We saw a couple of hikers coming down from the alpine ridge.
We drove the same route back and stopped at a couple viewpoints that we had missed including the glacial waters of the Margaritzenstausee with a small chapel overlooking it.
The Großglockner High Alpine Road certainly lives up to it’s description –
“You pass through a unique world of mountains with blossoming alpine meadows, fragrant mountain forests, massive cliffs and eternal ice to the foot of the Grossglockner, the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe.”